What is Addiction?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”WHAT IS ADDICTION?” font_container=”tag:h1|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_column_text]When the brain is operating normally, appropriate neuro-pathways exist. For example, positive, healthy actions such as exercise, healthy nutritious eating and showing affection to loved ones triggers the pleasure pathways and make you feel good, which in turn, motivates you to repeat those activities. On the flip side, the brain recognises when you are in danger or feeling frightened, alerting your body to react quickly.

The frontal regions of the brain are triggered when you are faced with a quandary, like having a chocolate milkshake before dinner or quitting a job when you’re frustrated. This area of the brain helps you weigh up the consequences and consider your options.


However, when addiction sets in, the brain’s healthy neuro pathways are thrown out of balance. Specifically targeting the pleasure and reward pathway, alcohol and drugs ignite an intense craving for more of the given substance. The ability of the brain to sense and appropriately react to danger and fear is damaged, causing anxiety and stress. When faced with these conditions, the addict typically uses more alcohol or drugs in an effort to medicate these feelings.

The region of the brain responsible for making healthy and logical decisions, the prefrontal cortex, is affected by continual substance abuse. Therefore, the addict is often not able to comprehend the destruction their actions are causing – mentally and physically. They are unable to make proper decisions about their actions. Professionals have proven that decreased frontal cortex activity is evident by the use of brain imaging studies. With the lack of healthy decision-making abilities, addicts often are so caught in the cycle of addiction that they will do anything for the next drink or drug – even if faced with the loss of family, jails, institutions or possible death.


The age-old question of why one person becomes addicted, while someone else does not, still has scientists and researchers baffled. There are links to heredity and genealogy in certain types of addiction, but often generations are skipped – not unlike heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other diseases.

Certain social situations can affect the chances that someone will turn to drugs and/or alcohol, such as being brought up by one or more alcoholic parent, suffering abuse or facing extraordinary stress or trauma (i.e. death or other life change). In addition, for someone who starts drinking or using drugs at an early age, the likelihood of abuse and addiction in subsequent years increases dramatically.

With young people, particularly pre-teens and teenagers, the transition to addiction is very fast as their brains are not fully developed at the time drinking and using begin – especially the frontal regions of the brain – responsible for risk assessment and impulse control.

More studies are underway to gain additional information about the effects of drugs and alcohol on teens and pre-teens. The National Institutes of Health is conducting an important study of young people and changes in the brain due to substance use. Over a ten-year time frame, they will follow thousands of young people, testing academic abilities, mental health, cognitive behaviour and more.

Professionals agree that the critical childhood years are an important time to educate youth about the dangers of addiction. Parents and educators should use these impressionable years to explain not only the warning signs and dangers of substance abuse but also the benefits of healthy living. Encouraging young people to take part in physical activities like sports, as well as other healthy activities such as science, art, music and education can point these young people in the right direction.

Treatment for addicts varies depending on the type of substance being used, the length of time used and the quantity of the drug. Some medications have been found useful in aiding the withdrawal symptoms for some addicts, but not all. Some addicts are able to stop on their own, while others need a great deal of treatment.


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